I’ve been thinking a lot about this post. I wrote it last December, contemplating a time (an as yet undefined, hopefully very “future” time) when my congregation’s minister will leave our church.
That reflection was about living in peace with what you know will leave you, and about figuring out how to do the work required to live into a personal commitment to stay. And it was about realizing that building relationships with my fellow congregants, and then expanding the circle to make room for the stranger, was what mattered in both of these contexts.
Friends, all of that may be true. It probably is. It sounds good, anyway.
And yet, the joke’s on me. Note: when worrying about anticipated grief, consider also “denial”– it’s a treasonous thing, and its reversal packs a stunning wallop.
I hoped, last winter, that I was working on identifying and hanging onto what stays, and gracefully accepting the impending departure of what does not. Looking back at my collected work, what I think I’ve actually written is “How to lose a lot of what you thought you needed, including your money and possibly your mind, in 11 short months.”
These days my blog is showing up in Google searches from potential UU seminarians (halloo, there!), and in helpful response, I have considered writing an actual “how to” post, as a step-by-step list. (Step one: Tell the story of your life. Tell it again. Now again. When the person listening has either literally perished from boredom, or attempted to slap you senseless, proceed to the next step. Step two: Gather all of the financial resources you have available. Seriously, all of them; if you can liquidate some assets, even better. Place them in the center of a large circle. Light them on fire. Dance around them, singing “We are the flow, we are the ebb,” or another Pagan chant of your choice, while filling out form RSCC-6 detailing your financial plans for your future ministry. . . . )
I could go on from there, and I’m sure my fellow seminarians could, too . . . the thing is, it probably doesn’t matter. There is so much I didn’t know, consent I wasn’t informed enough to give, losses I wasn’t prepared to incur. Maybe a step-by-step list, even a silly one, would be a move in the right direction . . . but for many of us, I suspect it would change nothing. If the number one value were doing something that clearly made sense from the ouside, “rational” perspective, who in this time and place would prepare for a life of religious leadership?
No, this is a path for people who are drawn by something else, something so compelling that we’re willing to grope in the dark where needed or stretch a foot out toward a path that does not yet exist.
It takes much trust—so much trust—to keep moving forward when you can’t see where you’re going to put your feet next; in doing this, you will feel quite acutely the weight of what is riding on your every move. Because it’s not just about you. It never is. It’s lifelong friendship and the tiny fingerprints that have been born of it. It’s the ridges and contours of this place where we grew into a family.
And, of course, this doesn’t stop with my family. Part of the path that is missing, or at least missing significant signage and guideposts, is in the saying goodbye to my home congregation.
There are a few recommendations here and some vague admonitions there, but really, we’re all just feeling our way through. Sometimes, I’m leading that feeling-out process; that can be more of an adventure than a person who hates awkwardness—hates it more even than raisins—can gracefully handle.
And I’m starting to wish, in this weird, in-between time, that I had a sign.
It should read:
I can’t be your friend
(and soon I can’t be your “friend,” either)
The time is coming when we will let all these things go.
But that time is not now. Not yet. So for now, I just grit my teeth through the awkwardness. For now, I just imagine saying goodbye. And the moment seems unthinkable. Huge. Unbelievably sad.
But then I realize: “huge” is not how goodbyes like this happen. I sit, lately, in the spaces that used to feel like home, the ones that for years have been comfortable like a favorite pair of jeans. And I notice that it doesn’t feel the same anymore, in subtle but definite ways. There is a gradual slipping away of some things, and, at the same time, a slow dawn of others.
There is truth here: this is how it will happen. This is how it will be. As an icicle melts, as a pathway is etched, as a child grows. Each new day is a goodbye, and a new arrival, as I gradually become someone else.
The one who will go.
And, then, someday . . . the one who lets go for a living.